Leaving Work Behind

How to Motivate Yourself

Written by Tom Ewer on September 23, 2013. 49 Comments

MotivationOne of the greatest challenges for people who want to leave work behind is finding the motivation to take action.

You may feel like you have the potential to create a successful online business, but what you don’t have is the necessary motivation required to get the ball rolling.

Put simply, when you get home from work, the last thing you want to do is more work. Although you feel you’re ready to make a major change in your life, you don’t have a fire burning within you.

In this post I want to help you to light that fire.

Dispelling the Myths of Demotivation

I get emails from people all the time telling me why they can’t succeed. They may not put it in so many words, but the general argument is always the same: “I can’t succeed because of [excuse].”

But here’s the thing: those excuses are never good enough. Never. Furthermore, they’re predictable and can be easily countered.

With that in mind, let’s start by dispelling what I like to call the three myths of demotivation.

1. The Time Excuse

TimeWhen it comes to finding a reason not to do something, a lack of time is the number one excuse.

But time can never be an excuse. People who say that they have no time to build a successful online business are lying to themselves.

How do I know this? You only have to observe what others are doing.

Whatever you want to achieve, someone has already done it with less resources. All over the world, people are reaching their goals and doing it in less time than you claim you don’t have.

Put simply, if you have the necessary motivation, you’ll make the time.

It’s not a case of, “I don’t have time” — it’s a case of, “I don’t want it enough.” Don’t confuse the two statements. One is an excuse, the other is an admission.

If you don’t believe me when I say that you have time, answer this question: if someone held a gun to your head and told you that you had to quit your job and build a successful business over the next twelve months, would you find the time to make it happen? Of course you would. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

I’m not saying that it’s easy to find the time. You will probably have to make sacrifices (from as trivial as less television, to less sleep, or even less quality time with friends and family). But necessary sacrifices in the short term that enable you to reach your long term goals are part and parcel of leaving work behind.

2. The Idea Excuse

LightbulbI get a lot of emails from people telling me that they’re ready to take action but don’t have an idea to take action on. But they’re wrong.

Everyone has ideas. We’re human beings: incredibly complex machines that are capable of thousands of thoughts every day. Don’t tell me you don’t have ideas running through your head.

Let’s go through a real simple idea production process. What’s your hobby? What do you love to do more than anything? Start a blog on that. There’s an idea.

In reality, you know that you have ideas. The real fear is that your idea is no good. To which I say this: failing at something is far more productive than doing nothing at all. The process of failure will teach you an enormous amount and you’ll be far better equipped to move onto the next idea. You will find a winning formula if you persist.

Don’t tell me that you have no ideas. Start something now.

3. The Experience Excuse

Finally, we have people who hide behind a perceived lack of experience or ability. Excuses like:

But I don’t know how to use WordPress.

I don’t know how to blog.

I have no idea how to launch an eCommerce store.

I have no freelancing experience.

First of all, there are people out there with less IQ points than you doing what you’re making out to be impossible. Seriously — creating a blog is not difficult if you’re willing to spend just a few minutes learning how:

The people who don’t use their lack of experience or ability as an excuse for inaction are the people who succeed. Sure — it might be harder for you to learn how to blog than other people. That doesn’t make it any less of a poor excuse.

There are people out there doing extraordinary things. Amputees running marathons. Adventurers traversing the Antarctic. A friend of my girlfriend is rowing from the Californian coast to Hawaii next year and half the team only started learning how to row recently. And you’re telling me you can’t figure out how to blog?

Don’t tell me you can’t do something because you don’t know how to. Figure out how to. Everyone in the world starts off not knowing how to do anything — if you’re lacking knowledge in a particular field, you just need to work to redress the balance.

Don’t shortcut the process either. If you have a knowledge gap that needs filling, you should invest in something of true quality that will help you to do so. Don’t fall into the trap of trawling the Internet to find the information you need — save yourself a whole load of time and effort and spend a little money.

Finding Motivation

Now we know that the most popular excuses for not taking action are just that (excuses), we have to dig deeper to uncover what’s really going on in those people who lack motivation.

Let’s consider what motivation is for a moment. The dictionary defines it as follows:

A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way

That definition couldn’t be any more relevant to us. Motivation is having a reason — something that justifies the necessary action to achieve your goals. If you’re truly motivated to do something then you make the time. You gain the necessary experience. And you do so with little in the way of negative thoughts because you have a compelling reason to do what you’re doing.

That’s why the whole gun-to-the-head trick is so effective — it gives you a reason. The whole “I must try to do this or I will die” scenario is a big motivator for most people. But how do you find that level of motivation (or something approaching it) without having someone actually put a gun to your head?

You need to find the most compelling “rewards” for meeting your goals. Those will be your reasons for doing what you do.

This is where so many people make their first mistake, because they believe these rewards to primarily be material. I have learned that the true rewards — those that will provide enough motivation — are rarely material.

Determining Your True Rewards

I'd like to live somewhere like this, but it isn't the reason why I do what I do.

I’d like to live somewhere like this, but it isn’t the reason why I do what I do.

Many of us dream of big houses and expensive cars. There’s nothing wrong with that.

However, the act of leaving work behind is not about that (at least, not primarily). Leaving work behind is ultimately about happiness. While material possessions can make you happier, they do not represent the core of true happiness.

The following things bring happiness:

  1. Security
  2. Relationships
  3. Freedom
  4. Material possessions

When it comes to motivating yourself, you need to focus on how quitting your job and starting an online business will affect those areas of your life.

The immediate implications may not always be positive. For instance, you may be concerned about the impact of quitting your job to your financial security. But on the flip side, quitting your job will give you the freedom to work as you please and spend time with your friends and family whenever you want. Furthermore, in time it may enable you to earn more money than you ever did in your job and give you a level of security that you couldn’t have previously dreamt of.

An Example of a True Reward

I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a LWB reader that perfectly described a compelling motivator. Unfortunately I can’t find the original email but the crisis was obvious: this father of two felt that he was spending all of his time working and barely seeing his kids grow up.

I answered a few of his questions but left him with one key statement: you’re already half way there. His motivator is so strong that the chances of him succeeding are immediately higher than average, regardless of his abilities or ideas.

Me, Jack and Maggie (one of my nephews and my niece).

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to know that you are not spending as much time with your kids as you would like. I am sure it is similar (but far more intense) to how I feel about only seeing my nephews and niece a handful of times a year (as they live in a different country).

The drive such a motivator can give you cannot be underestimated. In fact, one of my motivators to earn more is so that I can fly out to Texas to see my nephews and niece more often.

Motivators that involve deep human emotions — that affect you on an intrinsic level — make all the difference.

My True Reward

When it came to quitting my job and building a successful online business, my biggest motivator was to prove that I could do it. That may not seem like such a big deal, but it was to me.

I spent my whole childhood expecting to become a successful entrepreneur. Then, five years into full time employment, I suddenly realized that it simply hadn’t happened. More than anything else, I wanted to build a successful business so that I could prove to myself (and others) that I was capable of doing it.

My biggest motivators have been pride and a desire for achievement. My actions have been driven by the desire to create something. A legacy. Something that I can point to and say, “I created that.”

Those are the kind of motivators you need to find.

Negative Motivation

Another way you can motivate yourself is to tell yourself what would happen if you didn’t achieve your goals. I call this “negative motivation”.

Think of all the things you dislike about your job and your life in general and remind yourself that these things won’t change unless you take action. For instance, if I had stayed in my job I would have been resigning myself to a lifetime of working for someone else. I would have been handing over nearly one third of my prime years to someone else. I would have been giving up my lifelong ambition of creating my own business and would have proven to myself that I wasn’t capable.

I couldn’t bear that outcome. It would have destroyed my ego and left me feeling pretty worthless.

Furthermore, I wanted freedom. I’ll be honest with you — I’m terrible at dealing with authority figures. I don’t like people telling me what to do. Spending the rest of my life having 8+ hours of my working days controlled by someone else was something I couldn’t handle.

Individually, these motivations were powerful. When combined they were unstoppable. Find your own unstoppable negative motivators.

Reminding Yourself of Your Motivators

A lot of self-help types recommend that you put reminders of your motivators up on your wall, on your fridge, and so on. If you want to do so then go ahead (it certainly won’t hurt), but realize this: if you need reminders to keep your motivators at the forefront of your mind, they’re not compelling enough.

Your motivator needs to drive your thinking and your actions — to practically become an obsession. Does that sound pretty full on? It is — but that’s not surprising given that you’re planning on making one of the changes to your life that you will ever make.

Think about other major events in life: moving house, getting married, having kids. Each of these go a long way towards taking over your life. Many of your day-to-day decisions become influenced (consciously and subconsciously) by your consideration towards that major event. Why should leaving work behind be any different?

This kind of commitment does come at a cost. I believe that quitting your job and building a successful online business can be just as psychologically impactful on your life as moving house or having a kid. I never said that it was easy, but if you have strong enough motivators, the work won’t be so gruelling and the outcome will be life changing.

Secondary Motivators

Finding your key underlying motivators is one of the most important things you can do to help you in leaving work behind. However, there are other things you can do that will help no end in terms of boosting your motivation and keeping you honest.

Read or Watch Success Stories and Inspiring Speeches

Commit to watching three minutes of the following video — I reckon the majority of people who start it won’t stop watching until the end:

Or how about one of my all-time personal favorites from the always awesome Derek Sivers:

Although I don’t think video or audio is the optimum medium for learning and taking action, it can be extraordinarily powerful in terms of getting you fired up and ready to take on the world. Discovering how other people achieved what you want to achieve can be practically useful and deeply inspiring.

If you can feel your motivation flagging, videos like the ones above are exactly the kind of things you should watch to help get yourself back on the wagon.

Hold Yourself Publicly Accountable

I originally launched Leaving Work Behind as an accountability journal to chronicle my own journey to quitting my job. I wanted to tell the world what I was planning to do so that going back on my public intentions would be all the more difficult.

It was very effective, which is exactly why I recommend you do something similar. You don’t have to launch a blog, but you could for example get involved in a forum or start reaching out to other people who you can share your journey with.

Whatever you choose to do, the key is that other people must know about it and there should be repercussions for you going back on your stated intentions. If people expect you to try your damnedest to succeed, you’re likely to put far more effort in.

Build a Support Network

One of the greatest things you can do in terms of boosting motivation is start a mastermind group. If you don’t already know, a mastermind group is simply two or more people who get together periodically to discuss their business and set goals.

I cannot understate the value of being in a mastermind group. I attribute a great deal of my success so far to being in masterminds and know that I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. If you’d like to know more about mastermind groups, read my comprehensive guide.

The Other Side of Motivation: Making Things Easy Enough

Having said that, you should work to ensure that your path to leaving work behind is as easy as possible. After all, achieving your goals isn’t just about how motivated your are — it’s also about how challenging what you set out to do is.

For instance, if quitting your job and building a $100k per year profit business were as simple as signing a piece of paper, I am willing to bet that you would take time out of your day to make sure that it got signed. The effort of putting pen to paper would certainly be worth it. But if you were told that by working 100+ hours per week for three years you would get $100k per year for the rest of your life, would you do it? I doubt it (and even if you tried, you would fail).

So don’t just look at your motivators — examine the methods you are employing to reach your goals. Are they working? Is they too difficult? Do they still make sense to you? Do you truly believe that your actions will bear fruit?

Taking some time every now and then to answer these questions can provide you with valuable information.

For example, making “passive” income from a blog is tough, yet many people try it. Most fail, then give up on making money online altogether. If instead they tried something like freelance blogging, they might land their first client within a couple of weeks. Now they’re making money and can see where it could lead.

At that point, the motivation is far more powerful than the work required. Success breeds confidence, and confidence breeds the motivation to achieve more (tweet this).

So if you’re struggling for motivation at the moment, perhaps you need to adjust your goals. Don’t try to jump chasms rather than step over cracks. Work on taking a small step forward and use the confidence and motivation gained from your progress to achieve more.

Leaving Work Behind Isn’t for Everyone

There’s a reason why most people are employed — running your own business is not for everyone.

I’m not going to pretend that every single person reading this article will quit their job, because many of you will not. Many won’t find a strong enough motivation and life will simply pass them by. Before they know it, they’ll be at retirement age, wondering where their best years went.

You might weigh up the potential benefits of (and motivators for) quitting your job and realize that it is not worth the perceived risk and effort. You might discover that while your job is far from perfect, you’re not (yet) at a point where you feel truly motivated to make a major change.

There is a chance that you’re not motivated enough because you don’t have anything that serves as a strong enough motivator.

But lacking strong enough motivators doesn’t bring you to the end of the line. It may not be time for you to leave work behind yet, or you may not yet have come across an opportunity that truly excites you. You may not take action now, but perhaps you’ll keep looking and your outlook will change in time.

Just remember this: nothing beyond your outlook will change if you don’t take action.

Remember Your Key Motivators

Leaving work behind isn’t about getting rich (although it certainly can be a motivator). Not appreciating that key principle is what trips so many people up and prevents them from achieving their goals.

More than anything, leaving work behind is about finding those things that will bring you true happiness. They are typically aligned with the relationships you have and things that are deeply personal to you.

Find those motivators and you will have all the drive you’ll ever need to achieve your goals.

Photo Credits: Work Life, Wikipedia, Chuck Coker and Caitlin Jean

This Isn't Just Another "Make Money Online" Blog.

I'm sure you've had enough of hollow promises and get-rich-quick schemes.

I don't buy into that stuff; it's never worked for me. Instead, I create profitable online businesses through nothing other than hard work and persistence.

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49 Responses to “How to Motivate Yourself”

  1. Mallie Rydzik
    September 23, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    This was a very thorough article, much moreso than I expected it to be when I opened it.

    So I already did the quit my job thing and am successfully failing at an ecommerce business while marginally succeeding with my blogs and freelance writing/editing. Now that I’ve passed the initial motivation hurdle, it continues to be a daily struggle. I love what I do, but sometimes I don’t know where to *focus,* which I think is probably a different issue entirely. It seems like you can probably relate from your various ventures outside of LWB.

    “So if you’re struggling for motivation at the moment, perhaps you need to adjust your goals. Don’t try to jump chasms rather than step over cracks. Work on taking a small step forward and use the confidence and motivation gained from your progress to achieve more.”

    I think this is relevant to the focus issue as well. I’m all about the baby steps.

    • Tom Ewer
      September 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      Baby steps are always a winner! If in doubt, simplify.

    • Shane D.
      September 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm


      I am also dealing with the ‘focus’ issue. Between trying to LWB and dealing with everything else life throws my way, I’m learning just how easy it is to become overwhelmed. I’m finding that listing and prioritizing my tasks is the only way to keep moving in the right direction.

      Congratulations on leaving work behind. You’re already successful in that you’re doing what you love. I’m sure your motivation will take care of the rest.

      Good luck

  2. John Shea
    September 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Awesome post Tom! I find motivation is one of the most difficult things for people, for me growing up and trying to get through school I found myself making it easy procrastinate and just do “what needed to be done” at the last minute always getting things done because I was being pushed to get homework done or complete tasks.

    Now that I’m nearly 30 and working a 9-5 job, I’ve completed a college degree and I work in IT working a job based around skills I’ve acquired all through out high school and college it’s very rare to find people pushing you to do something bigger. In the eyes of my parents I’m successful and doing well, I even just bought my first home.

    The bottom line is that I’m not satisfied, I could stay where I’m at the rest of my life but I’d never find the freedom and happiness you describe. I’ve been really motivated to do something bigger and that’s why I started doing interviews, every time I have guests on such as yourself I’m psyched and encouraged to keep learning from people who have quit their jobs and are doing much bigger things, it helps me stay motivated to keep going.

    I’ll be sure to go back and watch the videos linked in this post.

  3. Shane D.
    September 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Wow! I am so glad you posted this when you did. I’ve been struggling with motivation for several months while doing nothing more than complaining about my lack of time and energy. It’s such a difficult ‘trap’ to be in. This was just the kick-in-the-ass that I needed.

    Thank you for another amazing post.

  4. Craig Adam
    September 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Once again Tom, another inspiring and motivational post.

    I’m in the process of Leaving Work Behind now with my Affiliate Marketing business. Its so tough coming home from work and sitting on my laptop and doing more work as you mentioned, but nothing’s going to stop me from succeeding, and besides, I love it which makes it easier.

    Your blog has been a fantastic source of motivation so a big thanks to you for when the going gets tough!

  5. Michelle
    September 23, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Great post! I am usually very motivated, but the past month I have noticed that decreasing. I need to focus more and stop procrastinating!

  6. Daryl
    September 23, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Great post Tom!

    I remember I was on a certain work at home forum and I was saying that people don’t HAVE to freelance write for low pay, but doing simple things like building a website and actively marketing themselves will go a long way in finding clients that will be willing to pay decently.

    The response?

    They “didn’t have time” to build a website.

    This same person though, had time to work on profiles on Fiverr and go through onerous applications to content mills.

    They simply didn’t want to MAKE the time to build their business.

  7. Karen Martínez P.
    September 23, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Tom!

    I think this post is very honest. I kept telling excuses to myself day after day for a few years, and I finally decided to make it happen.

    Although I’m just starting out, that was all I needed to think I can do it.

    Dreaming about the freedom I could get is what made me pull the trigger.

    Great post!

  8. Steph
    September 24, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Another great post, Tom – thank you!

    (Bookmarking for later so I can catch up on the videos!)

    I recently set up a site for writers and just yesterday I asked: What is your biggest writing challenge?

    The most common reply by a long shot? NOT HAVING TIME/MOTIVATION TO WRITE.

    So this post is timely and relevant. I really dig your no-bs approach. 🙂

  9. Susan
    September 24, 2013 at 2:49 am

    This post is really making me think. Actually, I feel uncomfortable. I know that I want to do something, have vague ideas of doing something, but just don’t know what “something” is. Maybe I’ll just take a couple of baby steps and see where they lead me.

  10. Margaret
    September 24, 2013 at 4:06 am


    Give me a couple of minutes and that will be my website. A friend and I have been talking about trying to turbo charge our investments by investing together. However, I come from a marketing/creative background and have allowed myself to be so caught up in how things should look that I have fallen victim to the dreaded cycle of procrastination. Working from home is ultimately the goal for both of us, so thank you for this post and the video on how easy it is to set up a blog site. I am in the process of doing just that (sans decoration) and have only stopped to say thank you.

  11. Razwana
    September 24, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Tom – an awesome post again. I am loving this detail. I especially like the end of the post that talks about adjusting goals in line with what your motivators are. I haven’t seen this in any other post about motivation.

    I’m a big fan of testing and I am applying this to my entrepreneurial ventures now. I want to work for myself, but I am not sure if being at home on my own 100% is good for me. I have a full time job, so leaving this to focus on my business would be moving from one extreme to the other – too much perhaps.

    So I’ve decided to reduce my hours in the office and spend a part of my week at home working on my business. If this works for me, then I know I’m onto a winner.

    My point is this: sometimes we wait for motivation to hit and then go for the big dream. When in reality, taking baby steps (as mentioned in the comments above) is motivational in itself over the long term.

    – Razwana

  12. chia
    September 24, 2013 at 8:44 am

    “Discovering how other people achieved what you want to achieve can be practically useful and deeply inspiring.”

    You said it yourself. Thank you for being so inspiring to a lot of us who are just in the beginning of our long journey.

  13. Tony R
    September 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Hi Tom,

    I’m the father of 2 you referenced in this article and reading this just reconfirmed why I’m up at 5 am this morning, putting in the effort to learn and build as my family sleeps. I will do what I must to enjoy true freedom, time is our most precious commodity and that time belongs to my family, not some employer. We can’t get back time and once 24 hours is up its gone for good, true freedom is owning your time. Motivation found!

    Blessings to all,

  14. Chris
    September 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm


    Thanks for the kick in the pants! I am going to trade TV in the evening for working on building the business.

    Tony R. – I am a father of two as well, and they are my biggest motivators. Not only for building the business for myself, but to illustrate how to live life. Keep up the good work my friend!


  15. Debashish
    September 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Great post. “If you need reminders to keep your motivators at the forefront of your mind, they’re not compelling enough.” This one especially made me smile.

    I totally agree with the 3 demotivators that you talked about. Time, like you said, you’ve got to make it. Experience, you’ll gain only if you start. The thing with ideas though is that most people have them, and immediately start thinking about why it won’t work. I find that if I take a couple of minutes to write it down and look at it again after a few days, I see how they might work instead of why they will fail.

    Also, negative motivations are more powerful than positive ones, in my opinion. But, only for getting started. For sustaining the effort true rewards are definitely the way to go.

    • Tom Ewer
      September 24, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Debashish,

      Writing down an idea then coming back to it a few days later is a great idea and something I would recommend to everyone. Good tip!



  16. Charles
    September 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    Articles like this always help me stay focused. I’ve used the negative motivation technique in the past, but it did the opposite of what it should have done. I got really horrified at the thought of what the situation would be like if I failed. I’m sure it won’t have the same effect on everyone though.

  17. Shaun
    September 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Good article. Probably very timely for many people too.

    The excuses people tell themselves to justify their actions (or more likely inaction) always fascinates me. As does the extent that the people believe them to be true. I guess it can’t be helped, but as you mentioned, if somebody wants it bad enough they make time.

    You also touched on “negative motivators” which I think are often forgotten. Sometimes I think it is just as valuable to focus on what we wish to escape also.

    Keep up the good work.

  18. Darren Boland
    September 28, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Hey Tom,

    Great Article, I think motivation is a hard thing for anyone, but doing something your passionate about is a great start, or at the very least working towards something your passionate about….

    I find breaking down my end goals, to smaller actionable pieces with suitable rewards for each milestone along the way really helps, and it doesn’t have to be huge rewards either, maybe its just a coffee with a friend, after completing some task. for the bigger goals I achieve a weekend away..

    Its all about moving forward.. even if you get it wrong, and think you’ve hit the wall, there is always a way around it.

  19. Iain
    October 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    I like how you touched on how it can be difficult to be motivated when you don’t know what that key motivator is.

    That’s some that I think I lot of people can identify with.

    Also, that Gary v video is awesome. I had never seen that one before. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Rock that niche

  20. Karli Jaenike
    October 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Love this article… I think about freelancing daily, but I have a pretty darn good job… why would I throw that out? Oh yah, because I want to travel, and I can’t travel stuck in an office building. It’s scary though, what if I quit this awesome job (that I’m lucky to have) only to have to get another, crappy one later?!

    • Tom Ewer
      October 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

      That’s the risk you take, but at least by working for yourself you are taking full responsibility for what you do on a day-to-day basis.

  21. Perrin
    October 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Geez…spot on, Tom! “Time Excuse” and “Experience Excuse” are my main obstacles that I am still struggling to get over with until today!

  22. Shelly Drymon
    November 3, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Great post! I believe we get into habits that we use as an excuse. For example, “I don’t have enough time.” It’s amazing how much time one would have if they look at the number of hours they waste on non-productive activities, such as TV and mindless internet surfing.

    I have plenty of motivation and I don’t lack for ideas. In fact, I have way too many ideas and my problem is keeping them at bay. Focus- I have problems focusing!

    Perhaps I should go into business, helping others find ideas. I would be happy to share.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 4, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      The most irritating people are those who continue to insist that they have no time, even when you point out that they spending three hours watching TV in the evening!

  23. Dana
    January 15, 2014 at 6:01 am

    This article is very helpful! Thank you for sharing. I gain knowledge about motivation.

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